The 1994 massacre in Rwanda revealed the inability of a UN peacekeeping mission to respond effectively to the protection of civilians, one of the fundamental responsibilities of the international security organization, given its objectives. Although it was obvious that there was a genocide and not a civil war, and that representatives of an ethnic group were violently killed without being collateral victims of armed confrontations, the UN initially refused to intervene in the midst of events to stop the massacre of civilians. The late reaction made the death toll huge, given the relatively short time it took to kill Tutsi civilians. The scale of the event in Rwanda places it as the bloodiest genocide of the 20th century.
After the assassination of the country's president in April 1994, Hutu extremists took control of the state, launching a series of bloody massacres against rival Tutsi ethnic groups. As the majority Hutu ethnic group has been marginalized over time, its representatives have exacerbated interethnic hatred through the media. The population was thus encouraged to launch violent actions against Tutsi citizens in order to take revenge. Representatives of the Hutu ethnic group who opposed the massacres were also killed along with Tutsi citizens. The genocide perpetrators used firearms, machetes and gardening tools to exterminate the Tutsi ethnic group.
The violence lasted for 100 days, during which time about 800,000 people were killed according to the UN and the African Union and 1 million civilians according to other sources. The violent events also led to the emergence of a huge number of refugees who fled to countries such as Zaire and Congo.
The United Nations was currently carrying out the UNAMIR peacekeeping mission in Rwanda. Due to inadequate equipment, but also the lack of the necessary approvals to engage in the conflict and effectively stop the violence, members of the mission witnessed the killing of civilians. In the absence of a clear mandate to take action to protect civilians, UN troops cannot intervene to stop the violence.
Since the beginning of the atrocities, Western countries such as France, Belgium and the United States have withdrawn their members from diplomatic missions in Rwanda. Moreover, the UN refused to supplement troops, and despite the insistence of the commander of the UNAMIR mission in Rwanda, General Romeo Dallaire, also refused to authorize an armed response to stop the massacres.
Despite having concrete information on the start of the genocide and data on the extent and evolution of the massacres, the United States refused to get involved under the responsibility of protecting the civilian population. Moreover, the USA, together with Belgium, decided to withdraw the UN troops present in Rwanda, maintaining a small number of UNAMIR mission personnel. The United States could have prevented the transmission of inter-ethnic hate speech via radio stations, but it did not do so. By refusing to categorize the events as genocide, the United States has distorted public perceptions of atrocities, encouraging other states to treat the situation with indifference.
It is true that the UN later sent the UNAMIR II mission - in July 1994, consisting of 5,500 soldiers thus saving lives, but their intervention was late because the Hutu extremists had already fulfilled their bloody plan, exterminating a large part of the ethnic population, Tutsis. Although the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was later set up, the reaction of state and non-state actors who could stop or even avoid acts of genocide was deplorable.
Even if the responsibility to protect the population of a state against serious abuses, massacres or other violent acts has been adopted as a norm of international law, when that state proves its inability to act for the observance of its citizens' rights and thus their defense against atrocities, this was not put into practice when the situation required it. How the international community reacted to the Rwandan genocide demonstrates that the responsibility to protect remains a purely theoretical concept.
A number of questions arise such as: Why did the US not intervene to end the massacre? Why has the UN reduced the number of UNAMIR mission personnel since the start of killing civilians? Given its role as a world leader and guarantor of international peace and security, the US state had the responsibility and the means to act firmly to stop the genocide. An attempt was made to explain the reaction of the United States by arguing that they were not informed of the violent incidents or that they were in possession of the information but treated the situation with indifference, or that they considered that there was nothing they could do to stop the massacre.
In order to avoid such situations in the future, the functioning of the UN crisis management instruments should be rethought. In this regard, UN peacekeeping missions should receive clear mandates on their responsibilities and their role in protecting civilians. The resources available to them should also be reviewed to allow them to be effectively involved in stopping a similar event.
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